Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Begin Afresh, Afresh, Afresh"

It is time, dear reader, for me to beg your indulgence as we pay our annual visit to my "May poem."  To wit:

                  The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old?  No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin, High Windows (Faber and Faber 1974).

My daily walk takes me through a former army post (now turned into a park) on the bluffs above Puget Sound.  At one point, I pass beneath a long row of tall bigleaf maples that border the former parade ground, which is now an expanse of green that is mowed throughout the year.

Yesterday, a breeze came up as I walked beneath the canopy of boughs.  I looked up into the swaying branches against the blue spring sky, listening all the while to the rush of the wind through the fluttering leaves.  Larkin is correct:  "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh" is exactly what the leaves say.

Christopher Sanders, "Sunlight through a Willow Tree at Kew" (1958)

We each have our own versions of Eternal Paradise.  A fit subject for reverie, I think.  I suspect that some of us would be content to spend eternity stretched out on the grass beneath a full-leaved tree, blue sky overhead, wind soughing through the boughs.  Sun and shadow would move back-and-forth across our face as we lay looking upward at the restless green and blue and yellow patterns.  For ever.

      Kayenta, Arizona, May 1977

I fall asleep to the sound of rain,
But there is no rain in the desert.
The leaves of the trader's little cottonwoods
Turn, turn in the wind.

Janet Lewis, Poems Old and New: 1918-1978 (Swallow Press 1981).

In Eternity, there will be no seasons.  Only the ever-moving colors of the sun and the leaves and the sky and the sound of the wind in the leaves -- a rustling, a sighing, at times a roaring.

The riverbed, dried-up, half-full of leaves.
Us, listening to a river in the trees.

Seamus Heaney, The Haw Lantern (Faber and Faber 1987).

Patrick Symons, "Oak Arch Grey (Wimbledon Common)" (1981)

Perhaps you think that I have gone too far with these daydreams of Eternity.  Crossed the line into purple prose.  But every time I walk beneath a tunnel of whispering trees I cannot help but wish that the tunnel will never end.  I slow down as the exit approaches.  I glance backward.  My spirit droops as I emerge.

I suppose this is what Wallace Stevens is getting at in "This Solitude of Cataracts":  "He wanted to feel the same way over and over.//He wanted the river to go on flowing the same way,/To keep on flowing."  Alas, we are all up against Heraclitus's dictum:  You cannot step into the same river twice.

But, in a World of popular culture ("entertainment" and politics) that consists entirely of chimeras and fantasies, is it madness to want to walk for ever down an avenue of trees?  And what if, as you walk, the leaves above you, and all around you, say this:  "Begin afresh, afresh, afresh"?

Who has seen the wind?
     Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling
     The wind is passing thro'.

Who has seen the wind?
     Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
     The wind is passing by.

Christina Rossetti, Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872).

Robert Ball, "Mrs Barclay's Pond, Harborne" (1949)


Anonymous said...

Count me in to this version of Eternity, Stephen.

My earliest memory is of lying, alive and utterly at peace, in a baby carriage under an apple tree in my parent's backyard, watching the sun dapple leaves into myriad shades of light and dark green, against a blue June sky.

I can't have known it as June at the time, only much later when I learned to notice the particular color of blue that is only visible during an English June (further north by some degrees, so maybe akin to the light of your Puget Sound May?).

Heaney (as so often) captures it for me with those words: "the ever-moving colors of the sun and the leaves and the sky and the sound of the wind in the leaves"

At one with the elements... ahhh...

I'll be happy if this is my last view in this lifetime - Guess I will have to recline on something other than the baby carriage, but I will hope for a resting place that is equally well-sprung...

Reflecting now how different my first memory and life's journey might have been if I had been born in a time and culture where babes rest strapped to their mothers...

Thanks for the invitation to begin the week afresh, afresh, afresh


Stephen Pentz said...

midi: Well, that is a lovely and wonderful first memory of the World, and of life! How fortunate you are: a very auspicious start, I would say. (Alas, I'm hard pressed to recall my first moment of awareness.)

I agree: such a setting would be a marvelous way to depart as well. We can only hope. But we don't have much say in the matter, do we?

By the way (and strictly for the record, since I am a million light years away from being anywhere near his league): "the ever-moving colors of the sun . . . etc." is from me, not Heaney. The two-line poem is his. I should have made the demarcation between my text and his poem clearer: I wouldn't want to saddle him with my purple prose!

It is always a pleasure to hear your thoughts. Thank you very much for visiting again.

Anonymous said...

Away with you, Stephen. Must be the Heaney in you pulls me to your blog - or maybe the you in Heaney... :)

Stephen Pentz said...

midi: Thank you for the follow-up thought. Of course, I was flattered to have a few of my words mistaken for Heaney's. But, being a lawyer, I've spent 30 years saying things like this: "Your Honor, I'd like to state for the record that . . ." Hence my compulsion to set the record straight.

Take care.